Industry Statement: Response to California Commission Omission of Polypropylene from CA Statewide Recyclable List Recommendation to CalRecycle

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July 01, 2021

The following is a joint statement attributable to Steve Alexander, President, and CEO, The Association of Plastic Recyclers; Ron Gonen, CEO, Closed Loop Partners; and Keefe Harrison, CEO, The Recycling Partnership:

(July 2, 2021) — “The recent recommendations made by the California Statewide Commission on Curbside Recycling and Market Development to CalRecycle regarding a Statewide Standardized Acceptance List of Recyclable Materials (CA Statewide Recyclable List) concerns our organizations in its omission of polypropylene (PP #5) bottles, rigid containers, tubs, and cups. We believe the recommendation not to include PP on the list underestimates the recycling access, capture, and marketability of PP in California and could prove detrimental to PP recycling and waste reduction within the state and nationwide. The public and private sectors both have an opportunity to catalyze solutions to further accelerate the system-wide shift already underway for PP, improving the circularity of this material and satisfying an ever-increasing demand for recycled PP in new products and packaging.  We stand by polypropylene and our commitment to expanding access, education, recovery, and other necessary actions along its path to maintaining wide recyclability in California and across the U.S.”

Circular Economy Infrastructure Will Build Value For All Americans

By Ron Gonen

May 03, 2021

The circular economy is becoming big business in America. For example, just one piece of the circular economy, the recycling industry, generates over $100 billion in economic activity, nearly $13 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue and supports over 500,000 jobs annually. 

On a more personal level, as global supply chains began to crack during the COVID-19 pandemic, our domestic recycling infrastructure saved us from major shortages of critical consumer products — like toilet paper. But that is only a fraction of the value the circular economy can provide on both a local and national level.

A policy known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), now being introduced at the state and federal level, would create a massive investment in local recycling and circular economy infrastructure. Through a fee paid by consumer goods companies, thoughtfully-constructed EPR will save billions of dollars spent annually in landfill disposal fees. It would create hundreds of thousands of local jobs and provide consumer goods companies a reliable and cost-effective alternative to their current dependence on limited raw materials, which generate enormous amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during extraction.

In the past, advocating that companies take responsibility for the sustainable management of their products was the sole domain of environmentalists. But we are now seeing multiple stakeholders, including CEOs, politicians, customers and shareholders align on the view that when brands invest in local recycling and circular economy infrastructure to protect the environment, it creates value for businesses too. In New York this January, State Sen. Toddy Kaminsky (D) introduced an EPR bill that has gained broad support, and similar legislation has been introduced or is being considered in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.

A select group of CEOs of major consumer goods companies have recognized that what happens to a product after its initial use poses a risk — but when managed properly, can be an opportunity to secure long term value. Mark Schneider, the CEO of Nestlé, wrote recently, “[B]old and meaningful action in this space can become a competitive advantage, contributing to improved market share and growth.” Former Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, saw the opportunity to meet consumer demand years ago and trailblazed with sustainable business practices and products. During his decade-long tenure as CEO from 2009-2018, Unilever’s stock price increased by 290 percent. Investors took notice. Alan Jope, Unilever’s current CEO, has continued to expand Unilever’s commitment to sustainable business practices.

Three considerations are key to make EPR successful. First, stakeholders should gain consensus on the goal for EPR and incentivize brands to achieve it. Second, we should update the definition of “recyclable” to ensure that only products that are profitable for municipal recycling programs are designated as recyclable. Third, we must allocate funds from an EPR program directly to municipal recycling programs and empower local leaders to invest the funds in the infrastructure required to achieve their waste reduction goals. Styrofoam is an example of a packaging material that is challenging to recycle and has a limited market, while aluminum is infinitely recyclable and has a strong market.

For true accountability, all parties should set a goal for the policy and decide how to measure progress. Experience shows us that the best objective would be a recycling rate percentage well above today’s average recycling rate of around 30 percent, and a percentage of post-consumer recycled content used in the manufacturing of a product or packaging. EPR fees charged to consumer goods companies should not be viewed as the goal, but as a means to achieve the goal of a fully circular production system, where reliance on natural resource extraction and landfills is limited. Therefore, incentives for brands — fee waivers, designation to consumers and public recognition — are key for products to achieve a high recycling rate and use of recycled content. Where it’s not possible for producers to currently meet such goals for a particular product due to technical or economic limitations, this system and waiver could help incentivize producers to switch to recyclable or compostable materials or adopt reusable packaging models.

Which brings us to the next: a clear definition of what “recyclable” means. Recyclable has traditionally been defined as the ability of a product or material to be collected and sorted by a recycling facility in the United States. This does not take into account the economics of the recycling industry and the municipal recycling programs that are expected to remain solvent and grow. The result: consumer goods companies claiming that a product is recyclable, while municipal recycling programs struggle to find profitable end markets for it.

“Recyclability” should be defined as “a product whose primary material is sold by a municipal recycling facility for a profit.” Therefore, in order to receive a designation of “recyclable,” a product should have a market value of above the processing cost of materials (paper, metal, glass, plastic) at municipal recycling facilities across the United States. This stipulation would encourage producers to be more rigorous from the outset regarding their packaging design, connecting the diverse pieces of the system, from designer to producer to recycler, so that all stakeholders are in agreement that a product has value in a circular system. The EPR fee structure should be designed to motivate brands to ensure that their product is recyclable (per the definition above), is recycled and uses all or mostly recycled content in manufacturing.

Third, we should allocate funds from an EPR program directly to municipal recycling programs, empowering local leaders to invest the funds in infrastructure and innovation. It is critical that legacy policies, such as bottle bills that conflict with municipal recycling collection programs, be phased out as EPR policy is adopted. There are a number of leaders that have accomplished amazing things with limited funding, showing that investments made directly in local municipal recycling programs and at the direction of local leaders will yield the best results.

While EPR won’t solve all of our waste issues, thoughtfully-constructed EPR will provide the foundation for the development of comprehensive recycling and circular economy infrastructure in the United States. And with thoughtful incentives, companies that strive to be leaders in reducing waste, will be recognized and rewarded.

We are a country that has demonstrated that when the interest of business aligns with the interest of policy makers and local communities, we can develop infrastructure that creates massive long-term value. Thoughtfully-constructed EPR has the potential to do just that.

Ron Gonen is the CEO of Closed Loop Partners, a circular economy-focused investment firm and innovation center and author of “The Waste Free World: How the Circular Economy will Take Less, Make More, and Save the Planet.”

Originally published in The Hill.

North America’s Unique Journey Toward Circularity

By Kate Daly

October 09, 2020

Last week, I (virtually) joined more than 5,000 business leaders, policymakers and circular economy enthusiasts from across the globe for the digital World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF), convened by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. It’s been four years since WCEF’s first convening, and it was inspiring to see the continued momentum and global interest in advancing circularity. This year was the first time WCEF was to be held in North America, reflecting the growing tide of interest here. I was happy to have the opportunity to join the events and speak to the nuances specific to our region in our journey toward circularity.    

Elements of the circular economy have existed within North America for centuries, under different names: indigenous stewardship, industrial ecology, recycling, cradle to cradle, environmental justice, remanufacturing. For the new circular economy to flourish in North America, we must commit to building on this knowledge, in addition to adapting successful international models to our own North American cultures and governing systems.

While here in the U.S and Canada we don’t have the same type of unifying mandates prevalent in the European Union, business and investors are not waiting around for national legislation. They’re deploying capital, and identifying new business models and opportunities for collaboration. Many corporations are setting ambitious goals and doing the difficult work of identifying how circularity can become an integrated part of their bottom line. And in the absence of national legislation or funding, some cities are launching zero waste mandates and circular business accelerators to turn waste into resources and create local jobs. Innovation, investment, policy and above all partnership are the key drivers of the new economic model in the U.S. and Canada, and digitization is a key enabler. And in all of this we must together ensure that the new systems put into place don’t perpetuate the negative outcomes of the old ones, where low-income communities are disproportionately affected by the environmental burdens of pollution and waste.

In our most recent report, The Circular Shift: Four Key Drivers of Circularity in North America, we at Closed Loop Partners drew on our experience as researchers, operators and investors in the circular economy to illustrate the momentum and headway made thus far. Both the public and the private sector are responding to changing consumer preferences, increasing demands for better outcomes for local communities, and regulatory pressures. And it’s the cutting edge sustainable innovations and growing investment opportunities that provide a path forward toward circularity.

We’re in an age of experimentation, perfecting reusable and refillable packaging models, renting rather than buying clothing, and transferring ownership of products and packaging back to their producers.  There are many reasons to be optimistic, and the time for action, critically, is now. The clock is ticking on our current linear economic system and the circular economy offers a viable and much-needed solution: a robust framework that aligns the interests of shareholders, corporations, local communities and the environment, and is underpinned by core principles of resource efficiency, inclusiveness and resilience.

Together, we all have a role to play to catalyze inclusive approaches to systems change that shift us toward a better, more circular economy that’s business-led and community-led. There is no question that it will require unexpected and unprecedented collaboration, but personally I’m encouraged by the progress made to date and I look forward to what lies ahead of us in North America and beyond.

Closed Loop Partners Launches Report on Unprecedented Shifts in the Circular Economy in North America

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September 23, 2020

The report explores the sea change underway as four key drivers – market forces, recent innovations, changing policy and groundbreaking partnerships – push circularity forward

Read the full report

New York, Sept 24 – Today, Closed Loop Partners’ innovation center, the Center for the Circular Economy, announced the release of its timely report, The Circular Shift: Four Key Drivers of Circularity in North America. The report highlights critical trends driving circularity in the region, putting circular economy solutions at the center of business strategy, innovation development, policy changes, and new institutional partnerships.

The tumultuous events of 2020 have shed light on the importance of strong, stable, transparent systems, exposing the risks of overcomplicated, opaque supply chains and the limitations of continually extracting finite resources. In North America and around the world, supply chain disruptions, growing amounts of waste, and health and safety risks have called attention to the flaws of business-as-usual. As these challenges come to the fore, the urgency of rethinking systems that throw $10 billion worth of resources into U.S. landfills has increased. With growing investments and interest in less wasteful systems, the circular economy in North America is in the midst of a sea change.

Since 2014, Closed Loop Partners has been operating and investing in the circular economy, finding opportunities in the space and supporting its rapid growth across the U.S. Drawing from the firm’s investment intelligence and its Center’s research, the report delves into the Four Key Drivers of the Circular Economy in North America, exploring how innovation, investment, policy and partnership act as key enablers of the emerging economic model.

These factors shape and strengthen the landscape for circularity as investable opportunities have noticeably advanced, with momentum and innovation in the space growing rapidly. Capitalizing on the circular economy ultimately promises to recapture business value, offering a $4.5 trillion global opportunity by 2030, according to Accenture. Unexpected partnerships and visionary policy will be essential to accelerate the shift toward an economic model that is enduring, and able to withstand future shocks.

Against the backdrop of this year’s NYC Climate Week, the link between the circular economy––the reduction of both extraction of raw materials and of waste––and the consequences of climate change have never been stronger, or more apparent. The circular economy is not a singular solution, nor a short-term fix. To achieve circularity goals, such as decarbonization and dematerialization, change must be sweeping and collaboration must be far-reaching. Much like environmental solutions must include every stakeholder in the path forward, so must the circular economy.

“The clock is ticking on our current linear economic system and the circular economy offers a path forward: a robust framework that aligns the interests of shareholders, corporations, local communities and the environment,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. This report builds on the achievements to date and the necessary actions to move forward, underscoring the urgency of focused investment, innovation opportunities, policy change and unexpected collaborations to achieve system-wide change.